A Jeep’s tale is one of friendship and sacrifice
Every machine has a story. It’s true from dump trucks to dive bombers and especially true for Jeeps. Some of those could start with the classic war story preamble, “There I was, knee-deep in hand grenade pins … .” John Dundee’s 1985 CJ7 never went to war, but its story shares a thread or two with those common battlefield yarns.
“If this car has a story, it’s about friendship,” Dundee, a native islander, said.
There’s also some danger and some loss, some hanging tough and some sacrifice in the tale of John Dundee and his red Jeep.
Dundee, 61, has always been a fan of Jeeps, he said recently while standing barefoot on a West End beach with his running buddy, a hound named Ozzy.
“The first thing I did when I got my first good job — working for the railroad — was to buy a Jeep and a Harley-Davidson motorcycle,” he said.
That was a 1976 CJ5 that “rattled and bounced everywhere it went” and went pretty much everywhere, he said.
The CJ5 ultimately went to Hawaii with a friend to work on a pineapple plantation, he said.
“As far as I know, it’s still there,” Dundee said.
Next came a 2005 Wrangler that he bought from Bob Pagan, a childhood friend who for years ran Sand Dollar Autoplex in Galveston.
“Bob bet me I was too big to get in it,” said Dundee, who, you learn pretty quickly, finds a good story in everything.
“He said he’d knock $5,000 off the price and give me a case of beer if I could,” Dundee said. “I got the $5,000 knocked off and my case of beer.”
Like a lot of Galveston tales, the story of John Dundee, his wife of 40 years, Becky, and his Jeeps turned a little dark in September 2008.
“Ike hit us pretty hard,” he said. “We lost our business and our home. Our cars floated away. My mother lost her house. It was just the three of us in my mother’s old Buick.”
Enter now another childhood friend, Ross Novelli Jr.
“Ross is my best friend,” Dundee said. “One day, he drives up in a brand-new mini van, hands me the keys and says ‘Pay me when you can, or don’t.’”
Which has both nothing and everything to do with the red CJ7.
“This Jeep was on a ranch in Colorado where Ross and I used to go elk hunting,” Dundee said. “Ross wanted it and finally talked them into selling it to him. He brought it to Galveston and had it in a warehouse so he could restore it.”
Becky Dundee saw the Jeep one day and just mentioned she wished she could buy it for her husband, Dundee said.
“Ross completely restored it; took it down to the frame, replaced all the nuts and bolts, the hoses and belts, everything and then sold it to my wife for just what he had in it so I could I have it,” Dundee said.
The only proper thing to do with a gift of that sort is to enjoy it, which the Dundees and Ozzy do every day, he said.
“We like to drive it up and down the beach,” he said. “And we never miss a full-moon night. We drive down to the beach, crack open a bottle of Pinot and watch the moon come up.”